Duke grateful to be playing at Kapalua, Masters

By Doug FergusonJanuary 1, 2014, 7:01 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Every day brought another reminder to Ken Duke of what it means to finally be a PGA Tour winner.

When he was fishing during the offseason, someone passing by in a boat would greet him with congratulations. A few days before Christmas, he was sifting through a stack of mail when he came across a cream envelope with impeccable writing and a postmark from Augusta, Ga. – his official invitation to the Masters. Then he learned he was being inducted next year into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

All that before he boarded a plane for paradise.

''This is the way I pictured this place, just like this,'' Duke said as he gazed at an emerald green fairway at Kapalua with the blazing blue Pacific Ocean on the horizon. ''It's breathtaking. Every shot, you look at the water. You've just got to soak it in.''

That he can manage.

Duke is among 13 players who are eligible for the first time to play in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, which starts Friday. It might be hard to find anyone who appreciates being here more.

Diagnosed with scoliosis when he was in the seventh grade, Duke had a 16-inch rod inserted in his back to correct the curvature in his spine. His was a ''C'' shape, and the top of his spin had gone from 40 degrees to 72 degrees just before surgery. It was starting to put pressure on his lungs. Even now, Duke occasionally wakes up in the middle of the night gasping for a full breath.

''If you would have told me back then I was going to be a professional athlete, I'd say you were crazy,'' Duke said. ''My doctor says the same thing now.''

He couldn't afford to take a partial scholarship out of state, so he went to Henderson State in Arkansas, and then worked in a pro shop for a couple of years trying to hone his game and drum up financial support. He didn't turn pro until he was 25 – Tiger Woods had won six majors at that age – and spent 10 years toiling on smaller tours before he finally reached the big leagues.

It all was made worthwhile in June when the 44-year-old Duke won the Travelers Championship in a playoff.

''It took me 10 years to get to the tour,'' Duke said. ''And it took me 10 years to win.''

This won't be his first trip to Augusta National. Duke reached the Tour Championship in 2008, which got him into the Masters for the first time. He still has his first invitation on the wall in a frame. He goes back to the Masters this time as a PGA Tour winner, which to him makes it even more gratifying.

Kapalua is not a bad place to be, either. There's only one way to get into the field, and that's by winning.

''It feels really good here,'' he said. ''You watch this tournament every year, and that's the one tournament I never played in. My wife said when I won, 'We can go to Kapalua.' I said, 'We can go to Augusta.' That was the discrepancy.''

But he sees one parallel to two tournaments that could not be any more different – once you're there, you want to go back.

Dustin Johnson is back at Kapalua for the sixth straight year. Matt Kuchar is playing for the fifth time. Jordan Spieth is here for the first time, and with his talent, figures to be back plenty. Duke is not the kind of player who looks at this event as just another week on the schedule.

''We were trying to think the other night of all these guys who win every year,'' Duke said, shaking his head. ''It's like Augusta. You get a piece of it, you want to come back here. That's something I'm going to work hard on the next couple of years. I want to get back here.''

He has not forgotten what he went through to get here.

When he was voted PGA Tour player of the month after his win in Hartford, he donated the $50,000 award to the Stephens Spine Institute in Arkansas, this after writing a personal check for $25,000 to the charities of the Travelers Championship after he won.

He goes with his doctor, Richard McCarthy, a few times a year to meet with children who are about to have back surgery, and Duke's manager arranges for four or five hospital visits a year so Duke can meet with kids and help alleviate their concerns.

''When I was 10 to 15, I would have loved to have someone to talk to,'' he said. ''You're getting ready to go to major surgery, getting rods and pins. I was scared to death. Back then, Mom and Dad said this is what you're supposed to do, and you've got to do it.''

Trying to make it on tour was daunting, too. There were times in the late 1990s when Duke had to borrow money just to pay the rent, but he always seemed to pick up some cash on some mini-tour to get by.

His big break came after he won the Nationwide Tour money list in 2006 and he ran into swing coach Bob Toski.

''I used to hook the ball,'' he said. ''I was open in my stance, but I would aim to the right and hook everything. He said, 'Why are you doing that?' I said, 'Nobody told me any different.' The reason I remain open is because I have scoliosis. I can't aim square because it gets me to push everything to the right. That's just the way I learned to play. He just took the way my back was, and the way I had to play, and he kind of taught me from there.''

Toski had him swing more to the left to play a fade, and to Duke it seemed like every shot was going straight. He's not long off the tee, but he's accurate. He doesn't take the club back very far because his back won't let him.

But he makes it work, and it has worked quite nicely. Duke is a PGA Tour winner, and he's in good company this week.

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TT Postscript: Finally, officially, Tiger Woods is back

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 23, 2018, 11:47 pm

ATLANTA, Ga. – He’s baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack. Here are some things I think I think after watching Tiger Woods end a five-year winless drought and capture his 80th career PGA Tour victory Sunday at the Tour Championship.

• There’s only one place to start. That walk down 18. Tiger Woods leading throngs of maniacs (and me) into an arena only he can create, only he can star in, only he can thrive in. That was a security nightmare, and I’m sure whatever entities hold the insurance policies on Tiger and Rory were pulling their corporate hair out, but that was a scene you can’t really stage. A scene you can’t recreate. Not like that. Not with that level of exaltation. Every single person who has followed Tiger Woods’ career – every single person who loves the game of golf – felt like they were following Tiger in that crowd up 18. Regardless of whether you root for him or against him, you know no one else in the game can create a spectacle like that. After the surgeries, and the scandals, and the personal demons, Tiger Woods teared up, tapped in, put his arms in the air, and soaked in a kind of redemption none of us will ever fully understand.

• He admitted he almost cried twice on the way in. He almost cried in the crowd en route to the front bunker, and he almost cried after Rory McIlroy ceded the stage on the 72nd green. For years, he was invulnerable. Impenetrable. That was his aura. That aura was later shattered at too many different points along the way. There was a popular thought that Tiger Woods couldn’t be Tiger Woods without that same air of invincibility – that edge. But on Sunday, the golf world and Tiger himself saw that he could be vulnerable and a champion. Notah Begay perhaps put it best when he suggested on Golf Central that Tiger could, moving forward, strike a balance between playing with an edge and playing with a sense of gratitude.



• That gratitude seems genuine, too. He thought he was done. More than that, at his lowest point, he didn’t know what was going to be left of his life.

“Am I going to be able to sit, stand, walk, lay down without feeling the pain that I was in? I just didn't want to live that way,” he said in the interview room. “This is how the rest of my life is going to be? It's going to be a tough rest of my life. And so – I was beyond playing. I couldn't sit. I couldn't walk. I couldn't lay down without feeling the pain in my back and my leg.”

Now the roars, the support, the embrace, the victory – it all means a little more. Tiger Woods seems like a guy who took everything he had for granted, faced down the possibility of losing it all, and came out on the other end.


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• As for what exactly he really went through, maybe we’ll never know. Maybe we’ll never know how deep and dark that hole went. But clearly there’s an inner circle that knows. And that includes some of Tiger’s colleagues on Tour.

“You know, the people who are close to me saw the struggles and what I was going through, and some of the players that I'm pretty close to, they've really helped throughout this process and the last few years,” he said. “Their support and some of those things that they said coming off that last green meant a lot to me.”

• Tiger has been the face of golf for the last two decades. And that’s why it’s so weird to think that anyone can conceive of him as anything other than the most dominant player in the history of the game. But his kids are young enough that they really don’t know. Hearing him discuss his family Sunday night was both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

“I think they understand a little bit of what Dad does now. I hadn't won any tournaments in which they can remember, so I think this will be a little bit different for them. … A lot of times they equated golf to pain because every time I did it, I would hurt, and it would cause me more pain. And so now they're seeing a little bit of joy and seeing how much fun it is for me to be able to do this again.”

• So where do we go from here? To Paris, where Tiger through a wry smile suggested that everyone is going to sleep well on the U.S. plane tonight. Uh huh.

• But what’s next in that big-picture sense? Does he pass Sam? Does he catch Jack? Hell, I don’t know. I never thought we’d get to this point again. And neither did he. Maybe it’ll never get any better than this. But you know, it just might.

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With 80 wins, Woods eyes 'chipping away' at Snead

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 23, 2018, 11:38 pm

ATLANTA – Round numbers just feel better than the crooked ones.

80.

It’s only one more than 79, but it’s prettier and more historically significant.

“Eighty is a big number,” Tiger Woods said after winning the Tour Championship to reach that amazing tally in Tour wins. “I’ve been sitting on 79 for about five years now, and to get 80 is a pretty damned good feeling.”

Not since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational had Woods hoisted a trophy. And in those five winless years, he endured multiple surgeries; more personal turmoil; and doubt that he’d ever live a comfortable life, let alone play professionally.

80.

That puts him two wins from tying Sam Snead on the all-time PGA Tour wins list. What once seemed like a lock, then appeared unlikely, is attainable once again.


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This is more than just a nice, round number, however. More than an opportunity to be called the winningest Tour player ever.

For Woods, this is a recognized and appreciative product of grace and good fortune.

“To kind of get to the 80 mark is a big number," Woods said. 'Sam is still ahead of me. I've still got, I feel like, a chance to play some more golf and maybe I'll keep chipping away at that number and maybe surpass it. 

“But I just think that what I've gone through and what I've dealt with, I've gotten lucky, to be honest with you. I've gotten very lucky. I'm not playing a full-contact sport or I've got to move people around in that regard. At 42 years old with a fused lower spine; that's not going to happen.

“But in this sport, it can. I'm lucky to have the opportunity to have the people around me to have supported me and worked through this process with me, and I've ground out a chance to win golf tournaments again.”

 

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Key stats from Woods' historic win at East Lake

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 23, 2018, 10:47 pm

Tiger Woods won his 80th career PGA Tour title on Sunday with a two-stroke victory at the Tour Championship. Here are the key stats from the final round at East Lake.

• 80th career PGA Tour win; first since 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

• Two wins behind Sam Snead for most in PGA Tour history

• Snead was 47 years old when he won his 80th career PGA Tour title (Woods is 42)

• 43-for-45 converting outright 54-hole leads in PGA Tour career

• 24-for-24 converting 54-hole leads of three or more shots

• First win in 1,876 days; 118 players won on PGA Tour between Woods' wins

• Third career Tour Championship victory (most all-time)

• Has won Tour Championship in three different decades (1999, 2007, 2018)

• Fifth PGA Tour event won in three different decades (1990s, 2000s, 2010s)

• Projected to move to 13th in World Ranking with victory

• Was ranked 1,199 before beginning of 2017 Hero World Challenge

• Snead won 11 times after turning 43 (Woods turns 43 in December)

• Eighth PGA Tour win in Georgia; fourth-most of any state (Fla., Calif., Ohio)

• Extended lead to four strokes with birdie on first hole of round

• Second in field in strokes gained: putting this week

• First in field in scrambling this week (17-for-24)

• Finished second in FedExCup; was making first Tour Championship start since 2013

• Led field in one-putt percentage this week (51.4%)

• Finishes season first on PGA Tour in strokes gained: approach

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)

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Social media explodes over Tiger's 80th win

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 23, 2018, 10:45 pm

After a five-year hiatus, Tiger Woods made his triumphant return to the winner's circle on Sunday at the Tour Championship.

As evidenced by a quick look at social media, Woods' win set the golf world on fire, with everyone from Jack Nicklaus to Michelle Wie sending their congratulations to the 42-year-old.

Here are the best reactions from a wild Sunday at East Lake, where Woods claimed PGA Tour victory No. 80: